KANSAS CITY, Mo. – The Chiefs are set for déjà vu when it comes to the best player on defense and offseason workouts.
All-Pro outside linebacker Justin Houston is not expected to be present when the Chiefs report for Phase I of the offseason workout program on April 20, a source familiar with the situation informed ChiefsDigest.com Tuesday.
The decision to skip the voluntary portion of workouts doesn’t surprise when considering Houston’s current contract situation after he played out the final year of his rookie deal in 2014.
Kansas City on March 2 designated Houston as its non-exclusive franchise player, which carries a one-year, estimated $13 million tag, to prevent the three-time Pro Bowl linebacker from entering the market as an unrestricted free agent on March 10.
The Chiefs and Houston’s camp have been unable to work out a long-term deal since the 2014 offseason. Houston skipped the voluntary offseason workout program, voluntary organized team activities (OTAs) and the mandatory minicamp last year.
But given the current stalemate in negotiations, it wouldn’t surprise if Houston’s asking price continued to rise surrounding fair market value with each passing day, according to Joel Corry, a former NFL agent and current CBS Sports salary cap/contract analyst.
“The big problem is (Miami Dolphins defensive tackle Ndamukong) Suh’s deal is likely to impact what he wants,” Corry said during a telephone interview. “That’s why if the Chiefs thought Suh was going to sign a blockbuster deal, they should’ve tried to strike a deal with Houston before that. If I’m representing him, I’m saying whatever I was asking before this deal is now obsolete and my new offer is going to reflect the change in the market place.”
Suh, of course, signed a reported six-year, $114 million free-agent contract with Miami.
Houston played the 2014 season earning a base salary of $1.4 million, which pales in comparison to the estimated $13.2 million made by Green Bay Packers outside linebacker Clay Matthews, the NFL’s top earner at outside linebacker.
Corry points out what Matthews earned shouldn’t play a role in Houston’s negotiations.
“That deal is not relevant if I’m representing Houston for a couple of reasons,” Corry said. “My whole thing is Justin Houston transcended his position with his performance last year where he almost broke the single-season sack record. He’s not going to be constrained by positional comparison. His true market is the top non-quarterback in the game.”
The 26-year-old Houston comes off a season where he led the NFL in sacks with 22, a total that set a team record for a single season and fell a half-sack shy of tying the NFL record for a single season.
Houston is just one of 10 players in NFL history to record 20 or more sacks in a single season since sacks became an official statistic in 1982.
“If they wanted to pay him like Clay Matthews, they needed to come up with that this time last year or early in the season when he got off to a good start,” Corry said. “Once Houston incurred the risk of injury and poor performance in a contract year, and then knocked it out of the park, all bets are off from that standpoint.”
Meanwhile, Houston can negotiate with other teams as a non-exclusive franchise player.
Kansas City, however, can match an extended offer. Should the Chiefs choose to not match an offer, the team signing Houston would owe the Chiefs two first-round draft picks as compensation.
The Chiefs, who currently have $2.82 million in available cap space, have until July 15 to work out a multiyear contract or extension, in accordance with NFL rules. After that date, Houston can only sign a one-year contract for the 2015 season and a long-term deal will then have to wait until after the final regular-season game.
“I think it’s really premature to speculate on where this thing goes until July 15 because that’s the deadline for a long-term deal,” Corry said. “As that deadline approaches, the Chiefs should get closer to putting their best foot forward, which they should’ve done a long time ago.”
Of course, there are no guarantees Houston will sign the franchise tender or report on time for training camp in the absence of a long-term deal.
And those scenarios could present a problem for the Chiefs defense.
“Ultimately, he probably has more leverage than the team just because you need him,” Corry said. “Tamba Hali is slowing down and Dee Ford didn’t really show his rookie year he was ready to make a significant contribution.”
Houston enters his fifth season after being selected out of Georgia in the third round of the 2011 NFL Draft.
The native of Statesboro, Ga., has 48 ½ sacks since 2011 to rank sixth on the Chiefs’ all-time sacks list and his 33 sacks since the 2013 season ranks as the second-best total in a two-year span in team history.
The Chiefs were contacted for this report, but the team declined to comment.
Herbie Teope is the lead beat writer and reporter for ChiefsDigest.com. Use the contact page to reach him or find him on Twitter: